Silt Striders of Balic

Meanwhile...

Meanwhile

Meanwhile, in Balic…

Hoping to figure out what is actually going on, and determine where our heroes have gone, a group assembles to contact Kik’Oda and unearth some leads. With that in mind, Praetor Moon, Priscilla, Captain Husk, and Ared go to meet Kik’Oda on the docks. An unusually large crowd is on the docks, making it impossible to get to him before a number of distractions occur, and a wave of zombies erupts from a wagon in to the crowd of people. Kik’Oda vanishes to get away from the mess, and the other four clean it up. In the midst of it, they encounter a tusked man named Tarek who explains he has been stealing away on to boats in the docks to prevent a vision of his from occurring – an artifact gold in color bringing great pain and misery.

After regathering their wits, they discover that a new templar, Praetor Gregor Udema, has spirited away something from one of the boats (coincidentally, the one with undead nearby) bringing it to the arena district. Sensing something foul is occurring, they head to the primary arena with great haste.

Arriving, they find themselves outwitting guards by showing up in disguise, fast talking, bribing, luring beggars as a distraction, and sumo wrestling. They easily overpower two guards and find Gregor in the basement of the arena with a mysterious cloud of purple swirling gas. Praetor Moon and Priscilla beat the bajeezus out of Gregor while the gas forms up in to the form of a Djinn, as well as the artifact which the groups infers is a ticking time bomb. Husk takes a nap while Ared teleports the bomb out of the room and distracts the Djinn with chaotic fire.

With Gregor dispatched, Husk wakes up and the group tears off through the city with a cart and kank that Tarek has procured. Husk takes the reins and madly rushes forward while Priscilla and Moon persuade common folk to get out of the way. Ared reasons with the Djinn with very timely success, and citing a favor owed, the Djinn teleports the group safely away from the cart before it crashes in to the city wall, detonating and blowing out a huge chunk of the city wall.

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The Royal Library of Urik

The group arrives in Urik, but the fact they are here with a Templar of Balic and have to continue evading Maddock’s spies causes them to consider their cover story. Dressing Vorelixen as a slave, they approach the main gates and Rikard tries to talk their way past the guards. The half-giant they speak with gives Rikard a little sass, but backs off when a Tiefling woman calling herself Vita Tourna claims the group are here to buy and trade goods from Merchant House Matylos.

She explains that the party sticks out like a sore thumb, and though they might survive without her help, they’d be in much better shape if they agreed to work with her and the people she works with: The Veiled Alliance. Vorelixen is prickly about it, but Rikard and Althaea are interested and Samm is largely nonplussed. Vita also explains that the Veiled Alliance has observed Urik’s military positioning oddly, which due to Urik’s rigidness is a major red flag. She requests the party try to figure out why by shaking down one of the halfling leaders of the Crescent Mountain contingent Hamanu maintains.

Using their wits and a hefty dose of streetwise and history, the group manages to evade the guards cordoning off the halfling section and sneak in to the encampment. They are able to determine that the halflings were being fed information discretely by means of a message hidden in the hilt of a sword of elven make. Immediately the name Del springs to mind, and they set out to the foreign district to perforate him.

Del attempts to escape, and without too much fuss the party is able to restrain him and ask some questions. He explains he’s been paid to disperse some military orders to various agencies by means of selling items with notes inside. He doesn’t have any names because his method promotes anonymity, but he does say he has a contact who is an Eladrin that operates out of the Royal Library. Vorelixen, over the course of the interrogation, scars him slightly on the face, and they turn to confront his contact.

They arrive at the library knowing this is not the sort of place that they, except Althaea, really fit in. With that in mind, they fast-talk their way through the doors, and then elude notice amongst the endless shelves of books, scrolls, and science reagents. While the party scours the place, which is much larger than it should be able to be, Althaea bumbles about using Del’s code words in conversation with everybody she comes across. She eventually through some stroke of luck finds the correct Eladrin, who leads them in to a back room. Hariharan the Eladrin chastises them for risking everything he’s setting up here, explaining he’s here to blend in with a cult with the intent to subvert it. All is not as it seems in the Royal Library. Unfortunately for Hariharan and the group, the library itself is a spy and upon hearing this forms a golem of errant pages. The group is able to dispatch the golem, but not before it smashes open the Silence-spelled doors, spilling commotion out in to the library proper.

The group snatches up Hariharan and makes a break for it. They try to communicate to navigate past waves of guards, and fast-talk past others. Samm tries to cling to a balcony to evade detection and then attack half-giants as they pursue the group. They make the most of it and flee from the building, leaving Samm inside. As the doors swing shut, the last thing they see is a half-giant about to strike the still swinging Samm with a Katar.

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House Eyrnoeld

Our heroes have seen on the horizon the torches and war preparation at the ruins of Ledopolis, where Maddock gathers his undead horde. Eager to prevent the catastrophe from their visions, they begin the dangerous trek through the desert with no guide, no stormwatcher, and no roads. Light on food, they begin to weaken, and a vicious desert Tembo assaults them in the night to take advantage. The Tembo is easily deterred after an horrific beating, and scampers off in to the desert using its natural camouflage.

Shortly thereafter, a sandstorm picks up, and the group finds themselves taking cover in an old ruin out in the desert to wait out the storm. Althaea notices an elven-made longsword with an etching on the blade, and with a little research the party determines this place is at least a few hundred years old and hasn’t been touched by looters yet. They elect to become the first, and head down the stone stairs to explore while the storm rages above. They find a number of curious landmarks within this building, which appears to be the estate of some minor noble. They loot a jar of honey from a kitchen pantry, which has endured the years well, and eventually come upon a small glowing orb on a pedestal in what looks like some sort of a receiving area lobby. It calls psionically to Rikard, who mentally projects a conversation with it until it persuades him to loot it. When he takes the orb, the group finds themselves able to see the multitude of ghosts haunting this estate, acting out the final moments of their lives.

While Rikard and the orb chit chat, Samm and Vorelixen look through the rest of the home, and determine that at one time, the patriarch of this house lured a bunch of guests to his home for a party, and used their life force to power a devastating defiling ritual with the goal of benefitting his daughter. The result was killing himself and the party goers, creating hundreds of unhappy ghosts, and turning his daughter in to some sort of arcane fueled abomination with the mind and guise of a 9 year old girl.

While they sort out the clues in the estate’s basement, the orb reacts with fear to the presence of the girl above them, and the group makes a break for the little girl’s bedroom to complete the ritual and send her to her eternal rest. With Althaea and Samm nearly overcome by ghosts, Rikard and Vorelixen complete the ritual and release the spirits.

At this time they complete what looting they were after, and head upstairs to find the storm has ended. They continue their journey to Urik, continually followed by the sounds of bells in the distance. They elude whoever is ringing them, however, by evading the maw of a hungry sand worm and awkwardly hitching a ride atop it most of the distance to the city proper.

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A Little of Dis, a Little of That

The group, including Argiovinias, is led by Titivilus to his home by the Iron Tower. He ushers everybody in and they sit at his massive banquet table. Hooded figures begin providing courses as Titivilus introduces to the group his daughter – Alnurac, the head of the law firm the group must put down. Awkward conversation ensues as the party tries to survive the devilish meal, including some sort of viscid alcoholic beverage, seared unicorn flank, twice roasted wing of Hell wasp, boiled basilisk soup, the eye of the beholder (a beauty, that), chilled ocher jelly parfait, and Kalidnay crocodile tail. During the meal, Alnurac makes predatory glances to Samm, and most of the devils refuse to acknowledge Vorelixen.

Having survived, Titivilus insists that they regroup in a few hours for dancing, but pause to let the food settle. They discuss their tactic, and eventually settle on spending some of their soul currency to buy something to aid Samm in his mental defense, while he tries to seduce the succubus Alnurac. The dancing becomes a competition, and Samm and his dancing partner are quickly eliminated. The succubus takes offense to this and storms off, locking herself in her bedroom and ignoring Samm’s attempt to gain entry. Meanwhile, Rikard and Althaea perform admirably until the final round, where a subpar performance from Vorelixen and Titivilus is enough to win. After the dancing, Vorelixen talks her way in to Alnurac’s room, and leaving the door unlocked behind her, the group is able to rush up and dispatch her while the party rages on noisily downstairs.

They make convenient excuses to leave, except for Samm who descends from a balcony, and they head towards Argiovinias’ estate to regroup after a successful mission. Along the way, the scents of the Malebolge overwhelm them, and they are subjected to another dream-like interference by a ghostly Rikard. He spouts some cryptic nonsense, his face rotting as he speaks, and in a moment he is gone. They shrug it off and rush back to Argiovinias’ home, meet up with him a few hours later, and he makes good on his word by returning them to Athas.

Arriving back home, they find their district deserted. Exploring, they find that the area is under Balic quarantine, that their authority is not recognized, that Tulnis has been missing, and that a lot more time has passed than they thought. Furthermore, a huge hole has been blown out of the wall facing out, and evidently the city was affected by some sort of fast-acting magical plague while they were gone. They are approached while resting from their dealings in Hell by Ared, who has beaten the quarantine by repeatedly being slain until he could reach your office. He brings word that Maddock’s spies are everywhere in Balic, and that your friends and contacts have had to lay low and go underground to escape their scrutiny. Further, it seems that Maddock himself has looted a museum of artifacts in the plague zone, and claimed some sort of powerful psionic instrument with purpose unknown.

Piecing together the visions of undead armies clashing with Urik banners, the party moves quickly to check the site of the ruins and finds it inhabited by a Broken Builders wizard and his undead minions. He summons some sort of demonic plaguebeast, but the group is able to eliminate them without much fuss. They discover the ruins are just gone, leaving a gaping pit in the sand, and head off to the grove to resupply before trekking to Ledopolis. Still miles away, the army of the dead can be seen sacking the settlement and they decide instead to turn to Urik and bring warning before the vision in their dream becomes reality.

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Argiovinias of Dis

Regrouping at the office, Samm’s business card from Argiovinias flutters to the ground and ignites with a burst of hell fire. Some sort of arcane text is etched on to the card by the flame as the group watches, and it is a somewhat cryptic message from the Vizier devil with a time and meeting place.

Arriving at the Olive Branch Inn, they meet with Argiovinias who describes a little bit about devil culture and how compacting works, which Althaea is able to confirm with her knowledge of history. Before the meeting has gone on for too long, it becomes obvious that the group has fallen in to a trap of sorts. In some fashion, the door they’ve walked through brought them in to Hell itself. Argiovinias gives them the tour of Dis’ districts, pausing momentarily to speak. The primary highlights are the bustling market district with souls as currency, the Garden of the Malebolge, and the Iron Tower wherein Dispater resides. Argiovinias also explains why you’ve been brought here – Maddock has compacted with other devils that are more powerful or have more political sway than he, and he wants to strike at them but cannot do so directly. Holding the party’s desire to return to Athas hostage, he sends them out to gather information under the radar and sort out what nonsense Maddock has been up to.

They head to Fool’s Hope, a tavern for the Damned, and have a look around for clues. What they find is Elgo, dead and Damned, and in his rage for sending him here he lashes out at the party, starting a bar fight that results in his transmogrification in to currency. They are able to dig up some clues about where to start with the trail, and find that a Cambion named Kostitchie was flapping his mouth about compacting with a powerful man in Athas.

The group evades devilish notice from the disturbance at Fool’s Hope and arrive at Kostitchie’s estate. They rapidly dispatch the Cambion and his minions and loot his home, finding a number of clues that point to Kostitchie’s involvement with a devilish law firm headed by Alnurac. They return to tell Argiovinias what they’ve discovered, and while doing so an important looking devil approaches making Argiovinias look uncomfortable. The important devil introduces himself as Titivilus, Nuncio of Dis, and insists that they all join him for dinner at his home by the Iron Tower.

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Circle of Equals

Meeting at the office to discuss plans, High Praetor Tulnis approaches for his post-mission update and to suggest that an annual event, the Circle of Equals competition, could draw the attention of someone under Maddock’s employ. The prize for winning the Circle is to acquire freedom if you’re a slave, or wipe someone’s legal record clean if you’re already free. Furthermore, a messenger brings word to Samm that his father is ill, and his mother requires his services.

The group heads to the Udema estate, which is poverty stricken indeed. His mother explains she lured him here by lying, that his father is fine, but his uncle is where their only source of income comes from and he’s under legal scrutiny for some sketchy business dealings. They pay a visit to his uncle, Lennard Udema, and try to get a handle on what’s going on. Seeing an opportunity to derail one of Maddock’s plans and benefit the Udema family, the group agrees to register for the Circle of Equals.

They do some sparring in the dust put set up in front of the arena, and Samm embarrasses Captain Husk in a quick duel. They then begin the first event, known as the Pyramid. A lantern is hung at the top of a magical stone pyramid, which occasionally becomes a dangerous wall of traps. Rikard and Samm scramble for the top of the pyramid while Althaea and Vorelixen hang back and support them. As it appears another contestant is getting too close, Althaea sprints in and fey steps up, giving Samm cover to take the lantern and putting herself in place to win points for being close.

Between rounds one and two, there is an evening pause. During this time, Samm finds himself having to recruit the group to help him subvert some Thri Kreen mobsters that his uncle has gotten in deep with.

On day two, a magically booming voice announces the day’s event. An historical representation of the fleet of Balic engaging a Nibenay armada, with the scales tilted very heavily in favor of the Balic fleet. The party is divided across the teams, and Samm and Althaea must battle Rikard and Vorelixen. Althaea quickly gets knocked off a pillar and eliminated from the event, and eventually Samm is overwhelmed by Rikard’s druidic grasping powers.

To follow up the event, there is a Gauntlet the remaining competitors must cross. A veritable army of the defeated combatants has been armed with all manner of practice weapons, and they are encouraged to beat on those who eliminated them. Samm, Rikard, and Vorelixen manage to emerge from the other side but Althaea is eliminated.

During that evening, they discover that Vorelixen is actually ineligible for the final prize and needs to withdraw because of her government ties. However, with a little bit of political string pulling, she and Althaea can man the trap stations under the pit in the final event. Arriving the next day, Samm and Rikard find that the arena has been set up with a half dozen massive flying mounts for a flying joust of sorts. Samm mounts a giant fly and Rikard takes a pegasus. After eliminating the rest of the combatants, Rikard convincingly throws the fight to Samm and the party reaps the rewards of first and second place. Samm uses his prize to eliminate the legal circumstances surrounding his uncle, and reclaims what holdings he still has to distribute amongst the more responsible family members.

The rest of the holdings of the Udema estate departing his uncle’s ownership under shady terms, which were reveals in the aftermath of the event. A man introducing himself as Argiovinias of Dis handed Samm a business card, indicating he could make arrangements for Samm to recover his holdings.

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The Red Scarabs

Samm had pointed out that an active gang in Balic, the Red Scarabs, were seemingly left off Maddock’s gang activity board with intent. Electing to follow up on that, the group calls everybody together to investigate the gang and do some good for the city in the process.

Samm and Ared worked together shaking up some trouble in a rowdy tavern.
Rikard and Kik’Oda harmonied their psionic instincts, quietly observing activity in the city.
Vorelixen and Anguish teamed up to use their mastery of deceptive and captivating craft to get an in.
Althaea and Captain Husk played some good cop, crazy cop with captives needing interrogating.

Confident the leads they had were solid, the group met to kick in the door at Red Scarab headquarters in an abandoned government building. An out of place Eladrin ducked out by fey stepping through a hole in the wall while the gang upper management engaged the party. Their lives nothing more than a speed bump, the party chases after the Eladrin through the busy district. After a long and merry chase evading storefronts, wagons, tight crowds, rolling barrels, fences, wild animals, and some good old-fashioned rooftop jumping, they successfully tail him to a mortuary in the center of town.

Upon arriving, the Eladrin is revealed to be more of a ghoul than a fey. It performs some necromantic ritual to raise the dead waiting to be cremated, and though the party was able to contain and defeat the threat it took the lives of a couple who was here to mourn. They also were able to interrogate the Eladrin, who was able to tell them that the Red Scarabs were targeting wizards fed to them through an informant, who all seemingly had ties to the Veiled Alliance. Further, a tiefling with government sanction to cast was the next target, by the name of Ella Tourna.

The party arrives seemingly just in time to keep the gangsters from killing her, as they’re only in her home for a few moments when the group arrives. They quickly dispatch the threat, and persuade Ella to go underground for her own protection, with the request she make herself available to them for information when possible.

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House Tomblador

Sandstorm season picks up in Balic and the group decides pursuing their lead with House Tomblador was the best start. They arrive at the merchant house and interview several people working there, including the elder Orodic Tomblador, his son Jasper, their captain Mauth, a half-giant bodyguard named Kao, and Theos “the Snake” who is a tattooed Elven sellsword. They are able to uncover that Orodic wrote the letter they’ve found in Maddock’s office, however Orodic declined to take contracts from Maddock after Maddock’s ousting. With some prying, the group can determine that Orodic’s youngest son, Leo, has been somewhat exiled from House Tomblador for ignoring his father’s demands and accepting what looked like a lucrative contract from the former High Praetor. The Sandstone Caverns would appear to be the direction his expedition went.

Arriving at the caverns, the party descends in to a darkened ruin. Dead soldiers with varied regalia littered the interior of the ruins, and while investigating the curse of undeath animated their bodies. The group was able to put down the initial wave and evade the swarms inside carefully navigating the mazelike corridors.

Arriving seemingly at the bottom, they come across a bloated, rotting Beholder floating silently beside a caged Oni. After an intense fight, the Beholder is slain and they are able to freely search the area. They find and destroy what looked to be a partially completed Phylactery, and loot several other minor treasures. The Oni attempts to persuade the party to free it, but they instead choose to collapse the cavern and bury the area just in case the Oni was the treasure Maddock was seeking.

On returning to Balic, they find a merchant wagon with House Tomblador’s etchings on it, and so choose to investigate. A creature had eaten the remaining expeditionary forces, and decided to continue gorging itself by eating the party. The group is able to dispatch the beast, and limps back to Balic to regroup.

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Exposing M's Identity

Our heroes, having recovered Miren the Impressario’s ritual knots, formulate their plan to break in to Delwraith Prison and free Praetor Moon from his confines. They bunk at Rikard’s tenement, and make their trip to the prison during the day traffic to blend in. Ared takes up a position on a nearby rooftop to lend aid with the rituals the group recovered, while they begin pushing in towards the prison. Rikard and Althaea use their talents to trace and distract the guards while Samm, Vorelixen, and Leon Strassam sprint up the face of the prison to reach the roof. Breaking in, they have difficulty confusing the guards and wind up having to knock several of them unconscious. They quickly rescue the Praetor, and sprint for the exit.
The prison itself begins to react to the intruders, and entering an unnaturally long hallway they are engaged by a group of guards and a guard captain bearing severe facial burns. Cackling madly and shedding their disguises, the guard captain and Praetor Moon reveal themselves to be Elgo and Borato, and the other guards to be Silt Zombies. The party manages to relocate the two to the bottom of nearby pits, dispatch the zombies, free the real Praetor from the prison’s gas chamber, and bust out through the front door in a beautiful arcane explosion, while Ared fires off defiling fireworks from the nearby roof to distract the police.
Laying low at Samm’s skeezy domicile, they interrogate Moon and learn that Moon knew Eiber returned, had been tipped off about Maddock by a mysterious note left behind by a former cultist, and that Maddock was trying to send a lieutenant and spell components to the ruins the party located during the Festival of the Cooling Sun. Returning with the group are Moon, Ared, Leon Strassam, Ku’Catza, Mierdi, and Addo. They arrive just in time to interrupt a mage who turns out to be Eiber, looking somehow conflicted while engaging the group. He summons elementals, and eventually summons a massive elemental that moves to assault the party. Eiber’s better half shines through and the group with Eiber’s help is able to put down the huge elemental and the minions Eiber has summoned. With the combined work of Althaea and Vorelixen, they are able to slightly stabilize Eiber’s mind, though it appears fractured and occasionally cultist Eiber bleeds out.
The heroes use the spell components from the ritual site to clear their names, and are deputized by the new High Praetor, High Praetor Tulnis. Vorelixen is appointed to be the primary hunter of the cult of the Broken Builders. Raiding Maddock’s office after addressing the crowds clamoring for his capture and execution, the party turns up several leads.
1) A contract signed by Maddock indicating a pact with the Vizier Devil Arginovilias of Dis
2) A packing slip for ritual components from a distributor in Urik
3) A notice of bail for a pirate named Gisella, signed by a resident of Raam
4) A letter from House Tomblador, referencing a summoning artifact recovered in Braxat Cove
5) A map depicting gang activity, notably leaving out the Red Scarabs
6) A torn out page of a necromantic ritual, thus far for unidentified purpose
7) A medical torture chamber, presumably used to slice Eiber’s mind in to multiple parts

Convening on their new leads and formal pardons/recognition, the group decides to move forward on the lead of House Tomblador first.

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Spies Everywhere

As the camera turns towards our heroes, we find them sitting in a rented room discussing their list of leads and the knowledge they hope to uncover in their meetings. A list is quickly compiled, as the group heads to an unnaturally deep slumber. Sharing a dream of Vorelixen in a morally compromising light, they each wake up a little unnerved.
Pursuing their leads with Kik’Oda, they find he is here on behalf of a firesoul genasi in Nibenay. His investigations point back to Balic, but he urges our heroes to pursue their own clues that point at Lissthiss, the mysterious crimelord leader of the Dreamwalkers gang. Samm gets more information about Lissthiss from his own sketchy contacts, and the party manages to speak twice with the information dealer Vastok and uncover a little bit more about what they’re dealing with. Del is a no-show for his meeting with Vorelixen, and poking around a bit they find he left down quickly with a cart of the belongings he could carry. Around this time, the group also realizes that the scribe Eiber is missing. Clues indicate he boarded a vessel to cross back to Balic on his own free will.
Moving to assault Lissthiss with the help of Captain Husk and his magical obscuring tarpaulin full of pirates, Samm and Althaea try to begin with discretion by speaking with Lissthiss as potential employees first. Their cover blown, either from the rampant sale of knowledge in Namarra or some other tell, they are psionically assaulted. While Husk and his pirates engage the minions of Lissthiss, Vorelixen and Rikard kick in the door and the group butchers Lissthiss. Upon his death, it becomes apparent he was not a humanoid at all, but a massive psionic lizard.
With little time to react, the party is thrust in to the open to assist Captain Husk and his men in cleaning up the remaining minions. A swarm of Hejkin, an unnatural type of creature spawned from the nightmares of sentient beings, prove to be quite a challenge but are eventually overcome.
Returning to Namarra confident they accomplished a good deed, they find they’re being followed. They successfully evade their pursuer, but eventually are approached by a man while they are raiding Del’s belongings. The man prostrates himself, and explains that he is Ared, the seemingly undying cultist from earlier in Balic. He goes on to say that he’s on the run from his cultist employers, and believes his odds for mercy and survival are better in their hands than in M’s. Though he doesn’t know who M is, he does provide a few more clues as well as some news from Balic – Praetor Moon has been imprisoned for obstructing justice and conspiracy against the crown. The party discusses what to do with Ared and eventually decides to install him on Husk’s pirate crew.
Samm, Vorelixen, Althaea, Rikard, Husk, and Ared take Ared’s chartered vessel back to Balic, sending the Tragic Hero back on a different route captained by Husk’s first mate. Arriving, they find that there are wanted posters depicting most of their group, and that the town is on high alert with a strong military presence on almost every street corner. Husk explains he knows an odd person who works in theaters that can help them evade notice but also help them to get in to the Odyssey Theater, wherein Ared has explained are a number of rituals that would be hugely helpful for breaking in to or out of prison.
The tiefling Anguish, a successful playwright, turns out to be every bit as strange as advertised. After a brief negotiation wherein the party appeals to his ego, Anguish agrees to help them on both accounts. His disguises work magnificently, so well in fact that upon arriving at the theater the halfling impressario Merin presses Althaea and Vorelixen in to replacing two sick actresses.
While Althaea and Vorelixen perform in Alda’s Error, Samm, Husk, and Rikard sweep the building looking for Merin’s ritual book. With great success on both accounts, the group leaves the theater significantly richer, and with their treasure – the knotted ropes of the impressario.

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